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Judy Ritter: converting good business sense into positive change for Vista

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Mayor Judy Ritter's basic pitch, for anyone interested in visiting the City of Vista for the first time, would include this information:

"I would tell them that Vista is a well-run city, we're family-oriented, more of an urban city now. We used to have a lot of avocado groves in our area, and we still like to keep that small-town feel ... ," but she would also add the entertainment options for those looking for more.

"We have a lot to offer in Vista. We have the Moonlight [Ampitheatre], we have the Wave [water park], a Business Park with over 800 businesses, we have the breweries in our historic Downtown coming alive, and the Krikorian [movie theater] Center."

In thinking about her efforts as a city councilmember and then in her role as Mayor, she states that at the local level of government, working together with people actually does "make a difference in our community." Ritter adds that while some change perhaps "takes a little longer" than it might in the private sector, and while "it is usually somewhat of a compromise on how we might personally want the change to be," she states that when she looks back she feels strongly that "... we have made so many positive changes in Vista over the years."

Fitness Industry

Asked what three words might best describe her, she chooses "energetic, empathetic" and "businesswoman" is given as her third choice. And those seem quite appropriate, given her background.

Before she ever thought of running for office, Ritter worked as an aerobics instructor [Jazzercise Inc] and also as the owner and CEO for Jazzercise Records and Courthouse Fitness Club.

Jazzercise is known to many as being the largest dance-fitness program in the world, and of her time spent as an entrepreneur/businesswoman she says in a recent interview:

"Running for office was never in my thought process back then. I was in the fitness industry, I taught Jazzercise for twenty-five years in Vista. I owned a music business [Jazzercise Records]." When she first started in the fitness industry, there was only one person who even did Jazzercise, she explained, and that one person trained Ritter and seven others to see if they could make a program which might work with other people. So Ritter trained with the others.

And then Ritter taught in Vista. Of course, music was essential to the classes she taught, and early on she realized there was a problem she and other instructors kept running into. Says Ritter:

"... I would go to music stores and run into other instructors, and they would be buying music." Sometimes she would be told "We just sold out of that record [music on vinyl]" and it left the future Mayor and the other instructors quite out of luck as far as their efforts to track down new music was concerned. So she made a deal with the others. "If you each pay me $5/month I'll buy your music for you."

It was a deal they definitely wanted, because it was a service they desperately needed as instructors. Ritter knew what type of music they needed as well, likely an important factor in the offer.

"So that's how I started the music business." But as most business owners understand, starting up is one thing, and growing is another. Ritter used her good business sense and knowledge of the industry to grow her business from that humble beginning. "When I retired from that business ... I was then buying music for about 5500 instructors around the world."

As a businesswoman, she was also required to keep up with technology changes. Which meant obtaining the music which first came recorded onto vinyl discs, followed by audio cassette tapes, and then the transition into music loaded onto compact discs.

Experience, Challenges

Ritter, when asked her opinion of what sets her apart from the other Mayoral candidate, says she wants people to know of her previous years as an elected local leader and her business background.

She counts 45 years in business, not just as a CEO, but she also has worked for General Motors before moving to Vista. "I think that that sets me apart. I've also been on the council for a long time, so I have a history here [and] I know what works."

When asked her opinion on what the biggest accomplishment was in the previous four year term, Ritter says decisively that getting out from under the "structural deficit" was huge. It was millions of dollars. She also adds:

"But ... when I was first on the council, there was no Krikorian Center." She sees many enjoying the local businesses now. "I am a person who tends to look forward." Her goal initially was to make Vista "a destination place" for people. She believes she is seeing it now, and says there are more "good things" coming.

But Ritter understands there are many challenges as well. She lists several basic items that are important in her opinion: the economy, keeping the budget balanced, and infrastructure. Then she adds this bit about what economic experts say:

"They say 'recession every seven to ten years,' but it's been seven, and we haven't really recovered yet. But I look at that, that's one of the biggest challenges."

She believes in being proactive, however, and wants to boost the amount in the City's reserves in addition to keeping the budget balanced. "You know, we don't know what the economy will be in the future ... I look at that." Then Ritter adds that "just keeping the city on an even keel: fixing the roads, having enough money," even if the state of California makes another play to take money from the city as they did in 2012 with redevelopment.

Of plans and pedestrians

"That was a huge hit that we took," Ritter says about the matter. There were plans made based on the idea of redevelopment. South Santa Fe originally would have been a re-routed road, but Ritter says they had to move to "Plan B" which she states is still a good plan but it is a "modified plan." She hopes it will be the start of more good projects, though.

"The walls are standing up now, and [the S. Santa Fe] project should be finished ... by next spring."

"They are going to narrow the street and put a [roundabout] right about Gil's Feed Supply [306 S Santa Fe Ave.], and then narrow the street down so the sidewalks are wider so pedestrians can walk there. And it will slow traffic down." She expects some people will be happy, and others not so much.

Ritter says that she enjoys what she sees around town, and another thing she is proud of is the displayed "artwork" around Vista.

"I love the artwork," Ritter says. "We didn't even have an art commission when I came on the city council." That was one of the things [former Vista Councilmember and Mayor, Gloria McClellan] and Ritter wanted, however.

Of the paintings on the utility boxes, the sculpures, etc. Ritter says: "They just outdo themselves everytime. .... That's the art commission in charge of that."

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